Turkey’s deepening tragedy of murdered women

Turkey’s deepening tragedy of murdered women

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Nazli Okutken shows a portrait of her sister Eda Okutken, killed by her husband, as she speaks to journalists on June 13, 2017, in Izmir. — AFP pic
Nazli Okutken shows a portrait of her sister Eda Okutken, killed by her husband, as she speaks to journalists on June 13, 2017, in Izmir. — AFP pic

IZMIR, July 12 — As she did most afternoons, Pinar Unluer was waiting to collect her six-year-old son from his school in Turkey’s Aegean city of Izmir.

She was then shot dead in broad daylight only metres away from the school, by a man whose marriage proposal she had rejected.

The 29-year-old was among 210 Turkish women killed or forced to commit suicide in 2012 in misogynist attacks by men, according to the women’s rights group We Will Stop Femicide.

Since then there has been a chilling increase in the number of women killed, often at the hands of men they know.

Newspapers report almost daily on murders of women by men they knew, and the rights group says 328 women were killed last year.

In the first five months of 2017, 173 women were killed across Turkey compared with 137 in the same period of 2016, the group said in its monthly report in May.

“When a woman is killed, I feel the same pain. I see them as my daughters,” Pinar’s father, Zeki Unluer, told AFP.

“When my daughter was laid to rest, my wife and I died.”

‘Crisis’

Since 2010, 118 women have been killed in Izmir alone, even though the city, Turkey’s third-largest, is considered its most progressive and a bastion of secular society.

Women’s activists told AFP that the rise in killings had come as more women sought to exercise their rights, including divorcing abusive partners.

“Women are changing but men are not. Men cannot keep up and there is a crisis,” said Gulsum Kav, a founding member of We Will Stop Femicide.

The Turkish government has said that the number of women killed every year is unacceptable, but activists warn that the problem is getting worse.

‘Our women are dying’

The notorious attempted rape and murder of a 20-year-old student, Ozgecan Aslan, by a minibus driver in southern Turkey in 2015 sparked nationwide protests and hopes that action would finally be taken to reduce the killings.

But even though Pinar Unluer’s killer is now serving a life sentence in prison, her father said he had seen no change, and denounced what he called legal loopholes that let perpetrators escape long sentences.

“I would ask (to a minister): ‘If it were your children, your daughters, your mothers, what would you think? Our women are dying, you are doing nothing’.”

He said that Pinar’s killer had sought a reduced sentence by claiming he had been provoked, a tactic often used in such cases.

Activists also say the killers try to get reduced sentences by claiming insanity, alleging that a woman had insulted them or that they had been cheated on.

Eda Okutgen, described by her sister Nazli Okutgen as having “a heart of gold”, was stabbed multiple times in November 2014 by her ex-husband in Izmir.

He was initially given life in prison for her murder, but a higher court annulled the sentence, and he is now claiming insanity in a retrial, Nazli Okutgen told AFP.

‘Can be stopped’

Over 37 per cent of Turkish women said they had experienced physical or sexual violence — or both — according to an exhaustive 2014 survey of 15,000 households by the country’s family ministry.

And according to the Ankara-based Foundation for Women’s Solidarity, the state of emergency imposed after last July’s attempted coup has worsened the situation.

In a report, the group says that many women’s complaints are treated dismissively by police officers, who claim they are too busy or handling “more important” affairs.

In one example in the report, an officer tells a victim: “There has been a coup, the police have other business.”

Turkey has ratified the Council of Europe’s 2011 Istanbul Convention, the world’s first binding instrument to prevent and combat violence against women.

There are also Turkish laws to protect women and punish perpetrators of assault, including law 6284 — passed in 2012 to protect families and prevent violence against women.

But according to Kav, of We Will Stop Femicide, officials were not putting the law into practice.

“These murders are something that can be stopped. There are solutions,” she said, pointing to the drop in women’s murders from 180 in 2010 to 121 the following year, a decline she attributed to the law’s debate which shone a spotlight on the problem.

“The law is there giving women the right to be protected,” she said, “but when women go to police or the prosecutor for protection, they are either sent back home, they try to reconcile (couples) or they receive a protection order only on paper.”

Conservative mentality

Activists also say government officials have, on occasion, failed to help by making inflammatory remarks on how women should behave: Last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan infuriated many by saying a woman was “incomplete” if she failed to reproduce.

And while gender equality should be a pillar of the secular republic, as set up by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, the only female cabinet member is Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, and women make up just 79 of the 548 lawmakers in parliament.

Reyhan Kaplan, of the Izmir Women’s Solidarity Association, criticised the government for a “conservative mentality which intervenes in a woman’s life”.

But the main reason for violence is “men not seeing women as equal, seeing themselves better than women”, she said. — AFP

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